Don’t Drink Bitter Water


Don’t Drink Bitter Water

October 14th, 1984 @ 8:15 AM

So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them, And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Exodus 15:22-26

10-14-84    8:15 a.m.


Thank you young people and our orchestra, tucked away over here to my right.  And God no less bless the great multitudes of you who share this hour on radio.  This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Don’t Drink Bitter Water.   It is a life-situation message and one that all of us can share.

In the concluding part of the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, we read:

So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur—


and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water.

And when they came to Marah—


they could not drink of the waters of Marah, because they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah—


And the people murmured, saying, What shall we drink?

And Moses cried unto the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree, [which] when he had cast the tree into the waters, the waters were made sweet. . .

For God said, I am the Lord that healeth thee.

[Exodus 15:22-26]


This is another word for the Lord that we find in reading the Holy Scriptures.  “I am Jehovah-Rapheka, Jehovah Rapheka; the Lord who heals thee” [Exodus 15:26].

This last week I took part in an international convocation of surgeons.  And in my prayer I said that; the doctor can diagnose, and the pharmacist can fill a prescription, and the surgeon can operate, but only God heals; He alone.  “My name is Jehovah-Rapheka, the Lord that heals thee” [Exodus 15:26]

Now it is remarkable that while the people of God, Israel, while they were following the leadership of the Lord Himself, they came to this bitter water [Exodus 15:23].  We need to remember that not all of the bitter providences of life, our sicknesses and our sadnesses and our sorrows, are punitive, that they are judgments and punishments from heaven.  They may be in the purpose of God to teach us to lean upon His kind, gracious, strong arms.  As the disciples went along with Jesus, the ninth chapter of the Book of John says they saw a man blind from his birth.  And they asked the Lord, “Who did sin, his parents or this man that he was born blind?”  And the Lord replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, that he is born blind, but that the glory of God might be manifest in him” [John 9:1-3].  The purpose of it was that the Lord might be magnified. 

That same thing we find in the life of the apostle Paul, who came to God about the thorn in the flesh, a malady, a physical malfunction.  And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord didn’t heal him [2 Corinthians 12:7-8].  God said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9].  Not all of the sorrows and tragedies that we experience in life are punitive; they’re not punishments; they’re not visitations from heaven.   They are to magnify the Lord God in us.  And you see it here in this story [Exodus 15:22-24].  God said to Moses, “You take this tree.”  And He pointed him a specific tree, which, when it was cast into the water, healed the bitter waters [Exodus 15:25].   The cross of Christ; our Lord nailed to a tree [Matthew 27:32-50], the cross of Christ will take the bitterness out of any sorrow and any tragedy and any hurt we ever experience—looking to God.  And now that’s my first avowal; looking to God, opening our hearts God-ward and heavenward, letting God help us, and heal us, and strengthen us, and glorify His name in us [Exodus 15:26; 2 Corinthians 12:9]

I take these words out of a letter from the richest woman in one of the great cities of America.  Her name is Mary Phillips.  Her husband divorced her; she and her four children were evicted from their apartment and moved out into the street.  And in desperation she looked to God.  And in those days, this is what she wrote:


With God’s help I will rise again.  I’m forty years old, divorced, and broke.  My four children and I have just been evicted from our apartment.  I thought my world has come to an end.  I have never been so depressed, so lonely, so frightened.  I am the sole support of my four children and myself.


But I’m not going to cry anymore.  God will help me.  I’ll set a good example for my children; I’m going to take them to church and teach them about God.  I will be the best mother in the world. 


I will be somebody, someday.  There will be obstacles; there will be setbacks; there may be detours, but I refuse to let them destroy me.  I am going to make it.  I’ll win the battle; I’ll win the war.  I will turn this loss into a cornerstone of my life, and I will rebuild again.  I will succeed.  I will keep going.  I won’t look back.  My children are depending on me.  With God’s help, I will rise again.


The tree cast into the bitter waters [Exodus 15:25]; God makes the difference—the wonderful thing that happens when we accept the providences and the sorrows of life as a stewardship, as a gift from heaven. 

I think one of the strangest turns of fortune I could ever read is when Jacob fled from the murderous hand of his brother, and leaving home and family as a young man, turned northward, going into the upper part of Mesopotamia, far, far away to him in those days, not knowing what would happen [Genesis 27:41-28:7].  And when he saw that wonderful ladder of God leaning against the battlements of heaven [Genesis 28:10-13], Jacob vowed a vow saying:


If God will help me, and will keep me, and give me bread to eat,

And bring me back to my father’s home;

this stone which I have slept on tonight, this stone will I set for a pillar.  And I call it Bethel, God’s house.  And of everything that God shall give me, I will surely give a tenth unto Thee.

[Genesis 28:20-22]


Isn’t that the beatinest thing you ever read in your life? 

In the hour of great desperation and need, he opens his heart heavenward and God-ward, asking God to bless him.  And the vow is, “I will accept as a stewardship from Thee everything and every providence, and I will set aside as sacred for Thee, one part out of ten of everything that You will give me” [Genesis 28:20-22].   Isn’t that a remarkable response?  But that’s God; that’s the tree cast into the bitter waters; that’s the Lord [Exodus 15:25]

In this last recession, I think it was about 1974, there was a man converted.  He was saved, had no job, was broke.  He came to the pastor and said, “What shall I do?”

  And the pastor said to him, “What can you do?” 

And he said, “Nothing. Nothing.  All I’ve ever done was work in a filling station and wash a few cars.” 

And the pastor knelt with him and prayed.  And just like that God sent a word into the heart of the pastor.  And he said to this man, “We’re going to make you the most super-duper, hand-washing for executive cars in the whole wide world.” 

And the pastor bought him khaki overalls, khaki overalls.  And the pastor took ten dollars and went to a copy shop and had a little brochure made.  And the brochure said, “My name is Jim Kelly.  I hand wash executive cars.  I keep them bright and shining,” and sent him down to one of these tall office buildings dressed in his khaki coveralls and with the little brochure in his hand.  He began riding to that office building on his bicycle, and took the executive car out to a driveway and washed it by hand; returned it, shining and bright.  Took another one, drove it out, washed it by hand, returned it to the big office building here.  Soon he had more executive cars than he could possibly wash, and he hired high school boys to help him.  And after a while he had so much work to do that he found a car washing place that’d gone out of business, he bought it, and today he has more money than he knows what to do with. 

The pastor led him into a dedicated stewardship before God for the problem and the providence and the trouble that he faced.  God never fails, ever; never!  When we take God into our hearts and into our lives, the whole world changes.  It is God who makes the difference in any life.  In any life, God makes the difference. 

In the fourteenth chapter, the previous chapter, in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Melchizedek king of Salem met Abram.  And he was the priest of the Most High God [Genesis 14:18].  And Melchizedek blessed Abram and said, “Blessed be Abram of the Most High God . . . And he gave him tithes of all” [Genesis 14:19-20].  Everything Abram had, he laid before the Lord, and God blessed him.  And Abram gave to the Most High God a tithe of all that he possessed, and God blessed Abraham [Genesis 14:20].  He never fails.  I may fail; God never fails.  He blessed Abraham, and He blessed the tithe that Abraham brought before the Most High God [Genesis 14:18-20].  It is not a matter of being poor or rich.  Whether you’re poor or whether you’re rich has nothing to do with it; absolutely nothing.  It is a matter of bringing life and providence and all that forms our being; it’s a matter of bringing it before the Lord, laying it before the Lord, and asking God to bless it [Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 4:6]

If all I have are ten pennies, I lay them before the Lord: two, four, six, eight, nine. These pennies belong to me.  God says, I can have those pennies.  And this penny, He says, belongs to God.  And I lay it all before the Lord.  All I’ve got is ten pennies.  Nine of them, He says, are mine.  One of them, He says, is His.  And I come before the Lord, and I ask from God, “Lord, bless my ten pennies; these nine for me, and this one for Thee.  Bless my ten pennies”; coming before the Lord with what I have, whether it’s little or much makes no difference. 

I have ten dollars:  one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine; nine for me and then one for God.   And I ask God to bless my ten dollars: “These nine here for me; and Lord, bless this one for Thee.” Abram, it says here, came before the Lord.  Melchizedek was His priest.  And he gave him a tithe of all that he had, and God blessed Abraham [Genesis 14:19-20].   And I have one ten dollar bill, two ten-dollar bills, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine; there’s ninety dollars for me; ninety dollars for me.  And then I have one ten-dollar bill for God.  And I ask God to bless them both:  “Lord, bless me, and bless the part that is Yours.”  And God blesses me. Don, I lost one of my pennies, that’s my part.  I don’t mind losing God’s penny, but I don’t want to lose mine.  And God blesses me.  He will; He does; He has; so much so that I give it all to the Lord and don’t give it back to me.  This is no game; all of that I give to the Lord, all of it. 

It’s like one of those fellows just beginning his life.  He came to the pastor and said, “Pastor, you pray for me and ask God to bless me, and you tell Him I hereby make a vow.  If He will bless me, everything that He gives me, I’ll give a tenth back to Him.”   And the pastor got down with the young fellow and prayed and told the Lord the vow of the young man.  “Out of everything You give me, a tenth of it I’ll give to Thee.”   And God blessed him.  He always does; He always will.  God blessed him.

And the young fellow finally came to the pastor and said, “Pastor, I didn’t mind tithing when I was making ten dollars a day, and I didn’t mind tithing when I was making five hundred dollars a month, but I’m making thousands of dollars a week now, and it’s costing me, and I want to be loose from this pledge, this vow that I made. I never dreamed that my tithe would amount to thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars!  And it’s just too much for me to give to the Lord.”  And the pastor said to him, “Now we’re going to get down here and we’re going to kneel.  Now I can’t release you, and God can’t release you from the vow that you made.  But I’m going to pray that the Lord will pull your income back to the day when you made enough that you could give a tithe.”  And the boy said, “Oh, pastor, no, don’t do that!  Don’t do that.  I’ll keep my vow.”  You know, a little is much if God is in it.  If God is in it, a little is much. 

The mathematics of the Lord God are some of the strangest you’ll ever read in the Bible.  Listen to this one in Leviticus, “Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight” [Leviticus 26:8].  Now what kind of mathematics is that?   Or look again in Isaiah, “A little one,” a qaton, a little one; a little one in the sense of unimportant, qaton.  A little, unimportant one shall become a thousand, and a small one—tsa`ir, a little one, insignificant—shall become a great nation [Isaiah 60:22].  That’s God!  It is God that makes the difference.  That’s God’s mathematics.

I have to close.  You know it seems to me just as I get started that thirty minutes is past.  I wish we could come down here at 7:00 o’clock and just say, “Now pastor, you just stand up there and talk to us out of God’s Book.”  When God speaks to us, I take it for granted, I take it for granted that His honor and His integrity and His character are on the line; they’re at stake when God says something, if God says it.

Let me give you a little illustration of that.  If I say to you, “By the Word of the Lord, by the Word of the Lord, if you will turn, repent, and open your heart to Jesus, and receive Him as your Savior, and openly, publically confess Him as your Lord, you’ll be saved [Romans 10:9-10, 13]; by the Word of the Lord, I declare that unto you; I preach that unto you; I proclaim that; I avow that [1 Thessalonians 4:15].  You turn, you repent; you face the Lord; you turn around; you repent, you accept the Lord as your Savior [Acts 20:21; Ephesians 2:8], and you openly and publically confess Him before men as your Lord [Romans 10:9-10]; you do that and you will be saved.  God says so!”

Now the same Lord God says, “Honor the Lord with thy substance and with the first fruits of all thine increase:  and thy barns shall be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” [Proverbs 3:9-10].   God says that.  God says, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, and try Me, prove Me, and see if I will not open you the windows of heaven, pour you out blessings, that there will not be room enough to receive it.  I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he will not destroy the fruit of your ground” [Malachi 3:10-11].  God says, this is the Lord Jesus, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” [Luke 6:38].  God says that!  And I think His honor and His integrity are at stake.  If God doesn’t bless you when you open your heart heavenward, when you receive as a stewardship from Him, every providence of life, if God doesn’t bless you, He is the father of lies [John 8:44; Romans 3:4], and not the Lord of truth.  When we come before the Lord with a stewardship, with a heart open toward Him, we have a right to ask of God and to expect from God a blessing. 

In this magnificent Word, in the seventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, “Without all contradiction the less,” that’s we, “is blessed of the greater” that’s Him [Hebrews 7:7].  He says we don’t even argue that.  It’s the greatness of God that blesses us.  Then the next verse; here it is: “Here men that die receive tithes,” such as we bring up here and use for the kingdom of our Lord in the earth.  “But there he receiveth them of whom it is witnessed that he liveth” [Hebrews 7:8].  God receives them up there in heaven, when we offer them to His work down here in the earth.  And when we do what God says, we have a right, we have a right to expect a gift from heaven, that God will bless us; we have a right to expect it. 

When I was a youth, I listened to Dr. Truett many times; never heard anybody like Dr. Truett, never in my life.  And he told an experience with the cattlemen in the West. And when his biography was printed, you can read it on page 111 in Dr. Truett’s biography.  But oh, my!  The impression this providence made upon my heart when I heard him tell it as a youth.   He said, “Every year I go out in the summertime and preach to the cattlemen in the West.  And one of the big cattlemen out there was saved; he was converted.”  And after a morning hour, the big cattleman asked Dr. Truett to walk with him outside the camp.  And they walked about a mile and a quarter until they came to a ledge in the rock, stopped, and the big man couldn’t control himself, just weeping.  Dr. Truett had no idea what it was.    Then the man began to talk to him and said, “As you know, I’ve just become a Christian.  I’ve just been saved.  I didn’t know until this morning that all of these miles and miles of land do not belong to me; they belong to God.  I did not know that these thousands, thousands of heads of cattle don’t belong to me; they belong to God.  Now, Dr. Truett, I want you to kneel down here; I’ll kneel by your side.  And I want you to tell God that all of these miles and miles of ranch land and all of these thousands of head of cattle, I give back to Him.  They’re His, and you tell Him for me that I’ll be a good steward and a good administrator of what God has given to me.  And then after you have prayed, then I want to say something to Him.”

They knelt and Dr. Truett said, “This cattleman says, “Thus and so, and thus and so, and thus and so.”  He’ll be a good administrator and a good steward of all God has given him.”  Then when Dr. Truett finished, why, he stopped for the cattleman to say what he wanted to say.  Took him a long time, so broken and weeping; finally when he could talk, the cattleman said, “Now Lord, I’ve given You all of my land, and I’ve given You all of my cattle, and I’ve given You everything that I have, and I’ll promise to be a good steward and a good administrator.  Now Lord, may I give You our bad boy?  He has broken the heart of his mother and me.  Please, God, won’t You do something with our bad boy?”  And the great preacher said, that night, while he was preaching, from the outside of the crowd, there came, in the midst of his sermon, that boy; walked over to his father and said, “Father, I can’t wait until this man has done his sermon.  I have decided for Christ; I’ve given my heart to the Lord.”

Do you think that is strange in God’s sight, as though such a providence of that would be an amazing development before Him?  Never, ever!  God will bless when we open our hearts toward heaven and accept as a stewardship from Him as Jacob did, as Abraham did, as all of God’s saints did.  Accept as a providence and as a stewardship from Him, everything that God gives us—some of us just a little; some of us a great deal more.  It makes no difference at all.  It’s the response in the heart, in the soul, that opens for us the windows of heaven.  I can well remember when they said, “If you’ll work hard, we’ll try to pay you twenty dollars a month, twenty dollars a month.”  Fine, I worked hard for twenty dollars a month, all the way through, all the way through, through the years and the years, and God has blessed.  It’s a wonderful thing and a beautiful thing to walk in the companionship and the friendship and the blessing of the Lord.

We’re going to sing our hymn of appeal.  And while we sing it, a family you to put your life with us in this wonderful church, a couple you, or just you.  “Pastor, today, I have decided for God and I’m coming [Romans 10:9-10].  This is God’s day for me and I’m on the way.”  Make the decision now in your heart, and in this moment that we sing our hymn of appeal, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way.”  May angels attend you, and God will bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.